The Hustle

The road to autonomous trucking is paved with more diesel mechanics than AI engineers

After underestimating the importance of old-school truckers, self-driving truck startup Starsky Robotics is building out a fleet of trucks that are piloted by people.

June 11, 2019

Starsky Robotics launched in 2016 with bold plans to fix the freight industry by replacing human-driven trucks with self-driving ones. 

But, as TechCrunch reports, the company today has 3 autonomous trucks — and 36 “regular” trucks.

Starsky’s journey shows that startups sometimes succeed only by collaborating with existing experts, instead of disrupting industry insiders.

In repairing a truck, Starsky fixed a broken business model

When Starsky’s trucks broke down in early tests, the company didn’t need AI experts — it needed mechanics.

When Starsky needed remote operators to run tests, it found that only career truckers could complete the tests safely.

Starsky soon found it could only scale its autonomous fleet by scaling its (larger) human fleet 6 months beforehand.

Autonomy… but with human support

Starsky still plans to create a fully autonomous fleet but now recognizes it will need trucking industry veterans to help. 

CEO Stefan Seltz-Axmacher admits he underestimated the importance of trucking expertise and says Starsky will achieve its goal of 25 autonomous trucks by 2020 only with at least 100 regular trucks and drivers.

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